In an ever-changing, post-pandemic world, companies need to come up with a more agile and more flexible way of working. Thus it was that a new work concept – Smart Working – emerged, also known as "New Ways of Working”. It is gradually becoming established as a way for companies to win over and – most importantly keep – talented people. But what does the term “Smart Working” really mean and what are its benefits?
Smart Working or the new emerging work culture
The concept of Smart Working appeared at the end of the 2000s / start of the 2010s (1), and it is more of a fully-fledged shift in work culture than just a simple change in patterns of work. Based on the belief that more agile working conditions and a more friendly working environment encourage ideas, projects and people to flourish, these New Ways of Working involve more than just the simple remote and hybrid arrangements which arose in the wake of the pandemic.
Of course, the option to work off-site is still one of the key aspects of Smart Working. But being able to manage one’s timetable more autonomously is just as important. Indeed, the concept has evolved around the principles of responsibility, autonomy, trust and employee well-being. These are all required to catalyse teams’ creativity and improve employee satisfaction, as well as optimise their engagement. With this in mind, a company's collective agreement on its Smart Working policy will set out to define the framework within which managers and their employees themselves can put in place arrangements to reach the targets that have been set for them.
With Smart Working, work takes precedence over place
With hybrid work structures, the concept of office has already changed. Nowadays, people can work just as effectively from their home as they can from their company workstation. But once again, Smart Working means more than that. In fact, it brings with it a comprehensive overhaul of our understanding of what an office is. It is no longer seen as a physical place rooted inside a company's building. Instead, it is understood as being a place within which a project or an assignment can be undertaken, or a place where people can meet, work together, engage in friendly discussion or enjoy experiences within a stimulating framework. This trend is in line with what adults in Europe want, two-thirds of whom would like to see the concept of "Anywhere Work” (2) rolled out more widely. The ten-fold increase in company agreements on remote working between 2017 and 2021 in France is encouraging, as is the 7% (approximate) increase in remote job offers in the US between January 2020 and January 2021. And desk-sharing* and the option for employees to work in third-party spaces (co-working spaces, for example) also fall within this framework.
* New way of fitting out workspaces that involves sharing desks.
Smart Working – what are the real benefits?
If Smart Working is increasingly widespread in companies, it is because it has numerous benefits – both for organisations and their employees.
Thanks to the flexibility underpinning it and because it stimulates creativity and catalyses innovation among employees, Smart Working increases their satisfaction, their involvement and their sense of belonging. Consequently, it plays a non-negligible role in increasing productivity and in reducing time off work for sickness, as well as absenteeism. Furthermore, it contributes positively to the company's reputation, including in terms of employer brand. It can therefore be seen as an asset in securing new talent. Not only does it help attract and retain people – it is also a way to have access to a whole pool of international talent. Particularly since the emphasis that it places on hybrid arrangements encourages a more inclusive form of recruitment – people with reduced mobility can be hired, for example. Finally, Smart Working is a way to deal with energy prices which are currently current skyrocketing: a reduced need for office real estate also means lower structural costs, such as heating and air-conditioning.
At the same time, employees can enjoy a better work / life balance with this new way of working. They save both time and money on transport (if they have to take their own car to get to the office). All of this can help reduce stress – provided the boundaries between personal life and private life are adhered to. It is precisely for this reason that the International Labour Organisation has called upon countries to adopt regulations promoting the “right to log off”. It is worth pointing out that this law is incorporated into article 55 of France's labour legislation. Furthermore, the European Parliament adopted a resolution designed to protect and recognise the right to log off outside of working hours on 21 January 2021. Certain companies implement measures for ensuring that this law is adhered to themselves. Dream11, an Indian company, is introducing a penalty system for employees who bother their colleagues while they are on holiday, for example.
Given all of these benefits, the AXA group switched to Smart Working in 2020. It was first introduced in subsidiaries employing more than 70% of the group’s 3 employees. The initiative should be rolled out to all entities between now and the end of 2023. Since it is part and parcel of AXA Partners' culture, access to remote working has been made easier, new informal spaces have been rearranged and co-working options have been created, amongst other things.
2 : Forrester Workforce Survey 2022 : https://www.forrester.com/what-it-means/ep251-future-of-work-predictions-2022/
3 : The future of work: why Smart Working works for our people, organisation and business https://axaxl.com/fast-fast-forward/articles/the-future-of-work-why-smart-working-works-for-our-people-organisation-and-business